It is proper for us to say, and to believe, that God is with us, or that God is on our side, but if we stop there, we may be in danger.
We can, in truth, say that life is a gift and is beautiful, but it is also true that it is difficult. This is another example of the paradox that is this thing we call life. If one loses this sense of paradox, one is in danger of both narrowing one’s world to that of the ego, and of making that narrower world view the be all and end all of truth. This is always a grave error. This kind of attitude has driven people throughout history to kill and burn those they believe are not on God’s side. It has been the source of some of history’s worst crimes against humanity, and every religion has its examples of this kind of perversion. Because we have not yet transcended our human capacity for unbounded egoism, we are capable of great evil under the banner of “God is on our side.”
It is proper for us to say, and to believe, that God is with us, or that God is on our side. But if we stop there we may be in danger of making God support our narrow prejudices. If we have fallen into heresy, we may be guilty of making God support our error. Faith loses all of its power to improve us and the world around us if it is not rooted in true humility. Only the truly humble believer is aware of the paradox of life and of our Christian faith.
What is the paradox that the humble Christian believer understands and abides by? The Christian realizes that the more important position, indeed the only one that matters, is whether he or she is on God’s side. This is the more difficult position, isn’t it. It is easy to charge into some battle, real or metaphorical, shouting “God is on our side, ” even if we are wrong, maybe especially if we are wrong. It is much more difficult to accept and live out of the paradox of the Christian faith that is made known to us in sacred scripture. The Sermon on the Mount is a great place to start understanding this paradox. We must, as Christians, know, understand, and live in accord with the teachings Jesus expressed in these passages beginning at Matthew 5:1 and ending at 7:28. Those three chapters are the heart of what it means to be on God’s side.
These chapters have always been the greatest challenge to us. Those admonitions were as hard for those who heard them from the very mouth of Jesus as they are for us today. Why? Because we live in the world, under the shadow of original sin. We know that God is great, that, in Jesus, God has shown us the Way, the Truth and the Life, and in our minds we believe all of this. The difficult part, the part we all know so intimately in our own lives, is living these things in our daily lives. It is difficult because, among other things, the logic of the world calls the attitudes Jesus gives us in the Sermon on the Mount, foolish. The world, in fact, argues their opposites.
For example, how much of the pain and suffering of individual lives and those that we read about in the daily news at the international level, is rooted in the philosophy of, “an eye for and eye, a tooth for a tooth?” The Sermon on the Mount says, “You have heard it said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:38-39) Or, “…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44).
The Sermon on the Mount covers all areas of life and how God wants us to live life with and for each other. If we reflect on these three chapters regularly; if we accept them as God’s words and begin, in faith, begin to practice them, we will be living as though we are on God’s side. And here is the truth at the heart of the Christian paradox: If we live our lives as though we are on God’s side, He will be on ours.
As G.K. Chesterton once remarked, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” We Christians must not just know that living the Christian life is difficult, we must live in and through that difficulty on purpose, with our whole hearts, bodies, minds, and souls.
Again, from Chesterton, “To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Hope means hoping when everything SEEMS hopeless.” This is the Christian paradox. It is in this paradox that we are saved. “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” (Chesterton)